From IRAs to IPAs: UC grad makes his mark
Taft's Ale House co-founder uses liberal arts as launchpad to success
After earning a political science degree and a wrapping up a successful career in finance, Dave Williams was ready for a change.
The University of Cincinnati alumnus was 59 years old at the time and had no interest in retiring. So he made his next move, co-founding Taft’s Ale House in the heart of Over-the-Rhine.
Since opening seven years ago, the award-winning ale house has become a thriving enterprise in Cincinnati’s burgeoning brewery business. But what leads a political science major to a career in finance and eventual entrepreneurship?
Williams credits his experiences in UC's College of Arts and Sciences with giving him the flexibility—and helping him develop the skill sets—that would lay the groundwork for his professional paths.
“The beauty of an arts and sciences degree, in my opinion. is that it doesn’t pigeonhole you,” he says. “It gives you a broader look at the world.” Williams also credits being student body president his senior year as giving him exposure to a lot of people in a world that he “didn’t know much about.”
His broad worldview, multi-faceted skill set, and entrepreneurial spirit pulled him to the restaurant and brewery industry in the early 2010s.
“I wanted to create an environment where people have a great experience, where we could get involved with young people who are trying to build their careers and help them move on to bigger and better things,” Williams says.
The first step was the idea: A brewpub in the heart of Over-the-Rhine that would become Taft’s Ale House, named after William Howard Taft. Williams, with the help of his co-founder Dave Kassling, renovated St. Paul’s German Evangelical Church on Race Street, which was built in 1850.
"The beauty of an arts and sciences degree, in my opinion, is that it doesn't pigeonhole you.
Dave Williams, Co-owner of Taft's Ale House
“We renovated this unbelievable structure that probably should have been torn down,” he says. “It was so bad, roof caved in, floors caved in. I mean, it was a mess.”
Understanding risk, overcoming obstacles, and adaptability are big parts of entrepreneurship, according to Williams.
Now, entering the renovated church, it's hard to imagine the mess it once was.
A wide staircase welcomes guests into the main taproom with 46-foot ceilings, filled with dark wood, antique fixtures and Rookwood tiles—about 25,000 of them. Three towering silver beer vessels sit above the first-floor bar, looking like the pipes of a church organ. On the mezzanine level, which overlooks the taproom, there is another bar area where the choir would be.
Through this renovation, Taft’s Ale House has become a living piece of history, preserved with the help of fine dining and craft beer.
“We really have two businesses,” Williams says. “We have the restaurant business and then we have the actual beer manufacturing business.”
In addition to its signature ales, Taft’s specializes in tri-tip steak, available as wraps, sliders, in salads and more. The menu also includes sustaining fare such as loaded tater tots, vegetarian burgers, fresh salads and chicken sandwiches.
Seven years later, the brand has expanded. Taft’s has a full-scale production brewery and pizzeria on Spring Grove Avenue; a Brewpourium in Columbus, Ohio; and the original Taft’s Ale House. The two co-founders, Williams and Kassling, have added around 135 employees.
Williams grew up in Troy, Ohio, about 70 miles up I-75 North, attending UC for a political science degree and serving as student body president for the ’76-’77 school year. He now lives in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he works with the management team, though he visits Cincinnati once every two to three weeks to check in on Taft’s.
Though Williams never initially planned to be in the restaurant and brewing business, he thinks it’s a good fit for him.
“I’ve always had an interest in creating things, creating environments and creating experiences and opportunities for people,” he says. “It’s not about me, it’s about what you can do for your community.”
Featured image at top: View from the mezzanine level of Taft's Ale House in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. Photo/provided
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